Brian Coyle Center redesign delayed

The development plans included expanding the building and building a multipurpose field, which could’ve been complete by spring 2010.

Lolla Mohammed Nur

Plans to expand and renovate the 16-year-old Brian Coyle Community Center in Cedar-Riverside are no longer on schedule. The changes to the building and nearby facilities will now most likely be completed in spring 2011, a year later than expected. The delay comes because the community centerâÄôs proposal to form a partnership with the park board was voted against at a park board meeting last week. The partnership was needed for the center to qualify for a $400,000 Hennepin Youth Sports Fund grant to fund part of the expansion. Brian Coyle Community Center president Jennifer Blevins said she said the community canâÄôt afford to wait another year. âÄúYou see kids splitting up the tennis court to play soccer,âÄù Blevins said. âÄúThe space is so small and the gym is falling apart.âÄù More than a quarter of the 4,000 residents who live around the center and nearby Currie Park are under 18, and the neighborhood has the highest density of family subsidized housing in the metro area. âÄúSometimes we donâÄôt have indoor space for meetings because itâÄôs so cramped up,âÄù said Burhan Mohumed , a University sophomore who serves on the centerâÄôs Resident Advisory Council. Park board vice president Merrill Anderson said the board was generally supportive of the centerâÄôs proposal, but it was incomplete and the partnership was requested too late. âÄúCurrie Park and its community are important because there are huge numbers of people living there and thatâÄôs the only park in the area,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúBut there needs to be a planning process. They need to sit down with the planning staff and think about what theyâÄôre proposing.âÄù Park board commissioner Scott Vreeland didnâÄôt vote for the centerâÄôs proposal even though itâÄôs in his district because he said the East Phillips and Stewart communities have been a priority for more than a decade. âÄúWe have a large park system and this is just the first round of improvements,âÄù he said. âÄúEvery neighborhood would like park improvements, and thisâÄôll be my top priority next year.âÄù He also said spending a year trying to obtain additional land for the expansion would be helpful. The community has been concerned with youth violence, which Blevins said can be diverted by involving local kids in activities at the center. The new plans include developing a second floor for offices, which would allow room on the first floor for youth programs, meetings and a meditation room. The gymâÄôs cement floor, bleachers, and wall mats would also be replaced as part of the plan. The unmaintained tennis court will be replaced by a new multipurpose field, which will be built in memory of Ahmednur Ali, who was killed outside the center last fall. Underneath the field will be a geothermal heating and cooling system to make the building more sustainable. The project is estimated to cost $6.5 million, which Blevins said the community center has been trying to secure through a capital campaign since February. Financial trouble with the park board Blevins said an underlying issue to the community center debate is complications with the centerâÄôs leasing contract with the park board. The park board owns the centerâÄôs building but the lease allows Pillsbury United Communities (PUC) âÄî an organization housed by the center âÄî to manage the building and the gym. The park board is required to pay the gymâÄôs operational costs, and in past years, it has done so by reimbursing the PUC. The cost can be up to $150,000 per year, according to PUC president Tony Wagner . The park board has also paid for the buildingâÄôs utility bills in the past. When the park board engaged in discussions to sell the building to PUC in 2007, it stopped reimbursing PUC because the two groups agreed the park board wouldnâÄôt have to pay for operational costs during negotiations, Vreeland said. The negotiations over selling the building have been drawn out and in the process, the park board accumulated a debt of more than $63,500 for the buildingâÄôs gym utility costs. Vreelend said those costs will be repaid this week. The delay in payments has frustrated community members who feel the center has been a low priority for the park board. âÄúWeâÄôve been getting the impression from the park board that they wonâÄôt do anything to help us progress with the expansion until the contract issue is resolved,âÄù Blevins said. âÄúBut the only thing left with the contract issue is they havenâÄôt been paying their bills and theyâÄôre the only ones that can solve that.âÄù Vreeland didnâÄôt deny disagreements over the lease and the amount the park board owes are impacting the potential for partnership between the board and the center. âÄúI wish we could do more for the community and update and rehab everything, but there are priorities,âÄù he said. Still, he maintains the board has kept its contractual duties, a claim the center denies. âÄúItâÄôs really frustrating when we hit all these roadblocks when in reality, it should be a great partnership,âÄù Blevins said.